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Unequal Housework Also a Top Source of Conflict in Indian Marriages

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May 28, 2018

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When Indian couples aren’t fighting about in-laws, they’re fighting about housework, according to our recent survey of modern Indian marriages. Chores and tidiness came in as the third-most common cause of a fight for couples; the second-most common cause of a fight was lack of time together.

But even for partners who argue most about other issues, there are hints that the spectre of housework lurks in the background — “his laziness” was repeated by several respondents who reported other primary sources of conflict, to the question: “If you could change one thing about your spouse, what would it be?” One woman was even more explicit: “I wish he helped me more in housework.”

I wish he helped me more in housework.

One-third of the male respondents to the survey noted housework was the chief source of conflict in their relationship. Without knowing more about their families’ dynamics, it’s impossible to say whether they are the ones shouldering the load of household labor. But the stats suggest it’s unlikely. Women in India spend 352 minutes — almost 6 hours — each day on household chores. That’s an average, so there are plenty of women putting in more time than that.

Men spend on average 19 minutes on housework each day.

If anything, it’s surprising that housework is only the third-most common source of conflict for couples. That it is might speak to the self-selecting nature of our group of respondents who are likely middle class or wealthier — able to afford some level of paid domestic support to ease their gendered allotment of household labor. But domestic support staff still have to be managed, and it typically falls to the woman to ‘keep the home running.’

He waits for me to ask him for help around the house and doesn’t take initiative himself.

It’s not only a problem in India; even in more egalitarian, more developed countries, women still spend more of their day doing housework, though the disparity is less. But it’s still unequal enough to inspire Patti Maciesz to create BillThePatriarchy.com, a site inspired by her own experience following her son’s birth, when she coped by inventing and drawing receipts for all her daily domestic work. The site now features a quiz for women to similarly tally what their unpaid domestic work is worth. “Mothers do a lot of invisible work,” Maciesz is quoted in the site’s About section. “I’d like us to go from nothing, to something.” (It’s worth noting that the gender gap in housework is not limited to families with children.)

Or perhaps in the West, the disparity has just gone underground; almost a year ago precisely, French artist Emma’s comic, “You Should Have Asked” went viral, leaving discussions of women’s mental load in its wake. Its point was echoed almost precisely by one of our survey respondents: “He waits for me to ask him for help around the house and doesn’t take initiative himself.”

My husband thinks the best the wife can do is ‘really look after the house and kitchen’ and keep a log of every penny spent for the same. Whereas I feel it is an entire waste of my education and capabilities to spend my life just trying to find staff and train them to bring out ‘the right cup and plate.’

The root of this isn’t too difficult to find. From their earliest years, girls are socialized through the examples they see, even through seemingly innocuous things like cooking and cleaning toys, to consider housework feminine. Boys, too. Girls are welcomed into the kitchen; boys encouraged to spend their time elsewhere — sometimes even forbidden to help out when they try. Over time, these subtle messages become habits and beliefs — sometimes unconscious ones. One respondent, who did not identify housework as a top source of conflict, still put her finger on the underlying societal problem, when she shared what she would change about her husband: “Change the cultural conditioning that he is hooked on to… his nonsensical thoughts about how women need to stay at home or be a housewife and take care of his parents.” (Guess what they did fight about most.)

Another woman, who did say housework was behind most of her fights with her partner, was more direct, writing that her husband “thinks the best the wife can do is ‘really look after the house and kitchen’ and keep a log of every penny spent for the same. Whereas I feel it is an entire waste of my education and capabilities to spend my life just trying to find staff and train them to bring out ‘the right cup and plate.'”

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Written By Liesl Goecker

Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle’s managing editor and has been living and writing in Mumbai since 2010. She is passionate about women’s rights, everyone’s health, and caffeine.

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